What’s the Point?

What’s the point? Really. I mean big picture. As in what’s the point of your life?

Have you ever thought about that question for any length of time? I ask because I think it’s a worthwhile exercise. Let me try to illustrate.

Many people, whether they realize it or not, live for success in their profession. They want to be counted among the best at what they do and receive the respect and admiration that comes with it. But consider the following list of names:

Herb Adderly
Chuck Bedarnik
Hugh Duffy
Bobby Wallace
Robert Davies
Neil Johnston

Every name on the above list is a professional athlete enshrined in the Hall of Fame of his respective sport. That means that each has been recognized as having achieved the absolute pinnacle of his profession. Did you recognize any of the names? I wouldn’t have, and I’ve been a pretty intense sports fan for as long as I can remember. My guess is that very few others will recognize them either. In another fifty years, that number will be even fewer.

Of course, some people are drawn not so much to professional achievement or recognition but rather to financial gain. Their dominant purpose is to make more and more money, and perhaps (though not always) to enjoy the benefits of that wealth. But here that old adage, “You can’t take it with you,” rears its ugly head. Sure, it’s nice while it lasts, but what dead billionaire now enjoys the fruits of his or her labor?

Others hope for the “great person of history” path. They long to make important contributions in the momentous events that time regularly reveals. But many people aren’t that familiar even with past presidents in our country, let alone their contemporaries who also walked the “corridors of power.” But think even bigger. How many of us know much about even the greatest names in Western civilization: Plato, Alexander, Aristotle, Caesar, Augustine, Charlemagne, Aquinas, Luther, Columbus, Napoleon? These are all people who’ve done much to steer the course of roughly half the world and more. And most of us can’t get past just a few basic facts…if we can get that far.

What about family? Many see their flesh and blood as the most important thing in their lives. But my guess is that most of us couldn’t even name our great-grandparents, to say nothing of being familiar with who they were and what they did. The point is the same even if we have to go back to further generations before obscurity sets in. 

Then again, one can always hope to be the proverbial rock star, or an otherwise acclaimed author, artist, or actor—someone who makes a lasting mark through creativity. By know, you can guess my response. How many artists of various kinds have been little more than shooting stars across the night sky, flaming brightly before quickly fading. And for all their genuinely enduring worth, how many people have beyond a passing familiarity with even the some of the greatest names in artistic achievement, people like Sophocles, Bach, Rembrandt, Motzart, Dante? I will never get over the fact that my undergraduate English degree didn’t require a class, or even a unit, on Shakespeare, arguably the greatest practitioner the English language has ever known.

Is there a point then? And do any of these other things—family, vocation, money, history, creativity—matter at all?

The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said: “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.” I think that’s exactly right. But thankfully, an infinite reference point actually exists in the person of the eternal, infinite God. Our lives matter because they matter to him. And in fact, it’s his purpose and plan that gives real meaning to every facet of who we are and what we do. Without God, all is a transient vapor. With him, our lives gain eternal significance.

All this requires a great deal of further conversation, of course. But suffice it to say for the moment that if one isn’t pointed in the right direction to begin with, it’s difficult to arrive at the correct destination. To point us in that right direction, I’ll close with a famous question from one venerable summation of the Christian faith: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer? “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

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